My pup cares about privacy. This photo has nothing to do with this post.

November 25, 2019

If You Care About Privacy

It's hard to maintain privacy these days, ever since we started carrying around the ultimate Internet connected surveillance device in our pockets. So what can you do about it? Here's a brief guide.

Vote with your wallet

Thanks to capitalism, the best thing you can do in most cases is express your frustration about loss of privacy by boycotting companies that don't respect your right to privacy.

Additionally, reward companies that do care about your privacy by buying their products.

If you aren't paying for a product, you are the product

I'm very suspicious of the term “free” these days. It's often misused, and it tends to be used in cases where there's a cost but that cost is hidden. A good example of these are “free” social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. None of these services are free, it's just that you (as a user) are not the customer. You are the product.

The customers for these products, in most cases, are advertisers or anyone interested in collecting vast amounts of data. For example, Foursquare, Yelp, and credit card companies all sell your daily activity data in bulk to financial firms (such as hedge funds) who use your data to estimate what revenues. If you have everyone's purchase history, it's pretty easy to guess how much Apple's revenue will change over time.

In some cases your data is anonymized, but unfortunately anonymized data can always be de-anonyized once you have enough of it, or have a way to correlated anonymized data with personally identifiable information. For example, if you know someone's home address and you notice some purchase patterns (from, say, credit card data) where all items are shipped to that address, it's relatively easy to guess out who the credit card data belongs to.

A simple suggestion: prefer products you pay for. Companies you're paying are less likely to be violating your privacy in obscure ways (although sometimes they do it anyway, for example ISPs who like to sell your browsing behaviour).

Use privacy-focused products

  • Apple has a relatively good record for privacy, so prefer Apple products over Google, Facebook, or Microsoft products
  • use private messaging apps: iMessage, Signal, Riot.im, Mattermost, etc
  • store your data on your computer, instead of using tools like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, etc.
  • use a browser like Firefox which has built-in tracking protection
  • use an ad blocker like uBlock Origin to protect yourself from ads, tracking, and other privacy violations
  • try Firefox's temporary containers extension to prevent websites from tracking you around the web
  • use Pi-hole with a DNS provider like Cloudflare with a good privacy record, this will make it more difficult for your ISP to spy on you

Avoid

  • avoid “cloud” products: prefer storing data on your own devices, disable backup and syncing to cloud services—“cloud” is a euphemism for storing your data on someone else's computer where you don't hold the keys
  • avoid ad-based products, such as free games (of which there is a myriad); they are almost always selling your data out the back door
  • avoid companies that have a long history of privacy violations like Facebook and Google
  • avoid mass media

Privacy matters

There's a growing trend toward slowly eroding individual privacy. Creeping normalities like the eradication of privacy hurt everyone, except for those in positions of power (who, amusingly, demand strong privacy for themselves).

Stay strong, and don't let FOMO get the best of you.


© 2019 Brenden Matthews, some rights reserved.